On Wednesday night Kent State University went on lockdown and students were told to “shelter-in-place” after a shooting on campus. The suspect, who allegedly fled the scene after accidentally shooting himself in the hand during an altercation, was at large for several hours while campus police and local law enforcement officials searched campus buildings to determine that there was no ongoing active shooter situation in progress. Quavaugntay Tyler, a 24-year-old freshman criminology and justice studies major, was later arrested at a local hospital after seeking treatment for the self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Now, some students and professors are alleging that the university and local media outlets engaged in racial profiling when they released a preliminary description of the shooter saying they were looking for a “a black man wearing black basketball shorts and carrying a silver handgun.” From Kent Wired:
In Traci Easley Williams’ Black Images course Thursday afternoon, Walker and other students expressed their views and stories about how Tyler was identified as simply a “black male.”
Easley Williams, a professor of Pan-African studies and journalism, asked her class by show of hands how many of them believed they should have released the description of Tyler as a “black man” even though it was vague.
Only one student — Caleb Ference, a senior electronic media production major — raised his hand. Ference, a white student, did not believe the suspect’s race should have been released because it was very broad, but he said a statement was necessary so that he could be recognized by the public.
“It was a very hectic situation, and I believe people should have known,” Ference said. “Not releasing the statement could have avoided this situation in some ways, but it would not have eased the tension that was going on.”
Easley Williams said she does not believe it is fair that minority students have to face situations like this and carry the backlash while keeping up with all other responsibilities in college.
Professor Williams told WKYC News that, “There’s a lot of hurt with the students of color here on campus. They feel that many of them were targeted.”
Trey Walker, a freshman broadcast journalism major said, “It wasn’t that someone had a gun and they shot on campus, it became ‘a black man on campus has a gun.’ and anybody on campus that fits the description of wearing basketball shorts, which is a very, very general … nothing talking about their t-shirt … not saying if it was white, black, yellow, blue … you have basketball shorts. Black basketball shorts. You’re a suspect.”
A spokesperson for Kent State told WKYC that police released the most detailed suspect information they could at the time and public safety was their number one priority.
WKYC released a statement explaining their use of the racial identifier:
WKYC did use the description of the Kent State university suspect last night online and on the air. With an active search for a potential gunman, we reported any detail that might lead to an arrest. We review each story that includes a racial identifier and make decisions on a case-by-case basis.
According to the university, 1,949 of the 22,000 undergraduate students enrolled at Kent State are African American and 59% are female. So the campus text alert immediately (and, apparently correctly), narrowed the search from 22,000 students to fewer than 800. When you eliminate students who were not on campus that evening (75% of Kent State students commute) and those not wearing basketball shorts, the number of suspects becomes exponentially smaller.
If you’re the parents of a college student — or a students on a campus with an active shooter on the loose — wouldn’t you want authorities to disclose as much information as possible to help students protect themselves?
A few African American students admitted they felt relieved when they heard the race of the suspect:
Jamal Deakings, a sophomore electronic media production major, said he admitted to initially feeling relief when he received the campus alert identifying the suspect of the shooting as a “black man.”
“When I found out he was a black man with a handgun, I was actually relieved because I believed it was less likely it was going to be a mass shooting,” Deakings said.
Freshman broadcast journalism major Valerie Williams said she was surprised to hear the suspect was black.
“I was completely shocked; I honestly did not expect him to be black,” Williams said. “Most major school shootings are done by Caucasian people, so I did not think the suspect would have been black.”
Welcome to the future of American journalism, where students are encouraged to think that racial sensitivities are more important than basic safety and apprehending a shooter. Meet the new boss — same as the old boss.